A tale of two bands. Blood Red Shoes, Drill Festival, Brighton, December 2014, playing to a half empty room, looking a little unhappy, in a venue that was shortly to close (Bleach). They soon thereafter relegated the band to the back of the drawer, Laura-Mary Carter off to LA, in search of meaning, and songwriting jobs, Steven Ansell remaining in Brighton, running a label (Jazz Life), bashing the drums, and – according to Laura-Mary – partying a bit.
Four years later, they are back playing Brighton for the first time since that gig. Apart from the fact – oh, the irony – they are playing a venue about to close (Sticky Mike’s), it’s a different kettle of fish on this night. They sound vibrant and happy. It sold out well in advance, and they have something to say. Along with a run through of many of their singles, they also showcased a few numbers, with extra members in tow. It’s the first time, bar a couple of shows in the States, that they are more than just a duo.
After an extended hiatus, with the odd gig and single thrown in to show the world – and possibly themselves – that they hadn’t gone for good – Laura-Mary and Steven went into the studio again to see what would happen, to see if they could still make a little bit of magic together.
For the most part, they have succeeded. An in-joke, naming the album after their perceived break, and looking for something to get the juices going again, Get Tragic is a slightly different affair then their previous three albums. Still, there is the biting, urgent and indie-rock punk that they are known for, in songs such as ‘Mexican Dress’, about an attention seeking wannabe, driving and chugging away in their uniquely melodic fashion (with bongos!), the song a slice of pure pop, but with a biting edge. ‘Eye to Eye’ is a darker, heavier groover, but with added synth lines and textures. It’s a feature of Get Tragic, that Carter in particular wanted to explore and bring to the table. As on the Ansell-led vocal of the epic build of ‘Bangsar’, written about a time he was held up by a stranger in Malaysia, who felt the need to tell him his life story. Then there’s the gothic ‘Nearer’, which is grounded by a deep bass synth and big drums, while Laura-Mary’s vocal is doctored in such a way that resembles Beth Gibbons of Portishead, while ‘Find My Own Remorse’, a song that Mary-Laura is particularly proud of, has an almost folk-techno vibe permeating, the ambience floating and relatively gentle, the duo experimenting with vocal harmonies, as the song winds on, into unexpected terrains.
However, they predominantly trade in melodic rockers. ‘Howl’ in particular has this is spades, a disco edge adding to the pop sensibility that would make this is a hit in times gone by. They revert back to a minimalist approach on some of the closing tracks, including the brooding pair of ‘Anxiety’ of ‘Vertigo’.
Recorded in the US, and with limited expectations, Blood Red Shoes have musically matured on Get Tragic, the songs a little longer, the duo mixing up their trademark stripped-back indie-punk with excursions into pop-synth. Despite the years of hard work, and trudging around the globe, it seemed that all may have been lost, their energy sapped, their will eroded. However, Get Tragic amply demonstrates what a great little band they are, with plenty to say. It’s good to have them back. It would be tragic otherwise.